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Bypass on the town's proposed comprehensive plan

Chris Paterson

To bypass or not to bypass, that is the question.

For Emmitsburg Mayor James Hoover, a bypass around the historic town is not just a good idea, it's soon to be absolutely essential.

Hoover and other leaders in the community cite the need for a bypass around town limits due to massive residential development just north of the Pennsylvania state line.

They argue Emmitsburg is already inundated with traffic cutting through the small, one stop-light town to get from Pennsylvania communities to U.S. Route 15 southbound.

Town manager David Haller told The Gazette last year that Emmitsburg has only about 900 homes.

Now, a proposed development just across the state border including about 1,200 homes promises to provide nearly 12,000 car trips per day from that community -- and many of those trips would be through Emmitsburg, according to Emmitsburg town planner Michael Lucas.

Bill O'Neil, president of Citizens Organized to Preserve Emmitsburg, said 12,000 trips could be a low estimate, because he just learned from Lucas that the proposed number of homes north of the town's border may increase substantially. A representative of the Adams County, Pa., planning office said an application has been received by that office for a 514-home community.

And Emmitsburg itself has approved 361 new homes that are yet to be built, O'Neil said.

All of this proposed and approved development is why Hoover has asked Lucas to place a bypass on the town's proposed comprehensive plan that will be publicly discussed in town meetings in the coming months.

Hoover thinks the best idea for a bypass may be to cut from Md. Route 140 west of the town and run southeast to intersect with South Seton Avenue near the U.S. Fire Academy.

O'Neil said that route is viable, though it would be greatly improved by taking the bypass all the way out to Route 15 instead of dumping the traffic onto South Seton Avenue. Even though it would require building a bridge to cross the creek, he believes that route would move traffic directly to the highway with little interruption.

But O'Neil also thinks the town should consider a northern bypass running from Boyle Road near Tract Road east to Route 15.

"I really think [a bypass] is doable, and I think, at least from a lot of the leaders in Emmitsburg, there's a real desire to get a bypass through," he said.

Regardless of which route the town may choose, reality hits when the price tag comes up for discussion.

No one has an exact cost figure, but a traffic study to examine the problem could cost up to $500,000, depending on the number of intersections and areas examined, O'Neil said.

If the town decides on a southern route, funding for the bypass would have to come from the county or Maryland. If a northern route is picked, it could be possible to involve the federal government because the bypass would involve two states -- Maryland and Pennsylvania, he said.

Hoover said he thinks Emmitsburg's town council will support the concept of a bypass, and that's the first step. Funding will have to be pursued after the town agrees a bypass is the answer and agrees on where to put it.

"I think currently... the [town] commissioners are very interested in some form of bypass without them pinpointing it or giving directions on how or where they would support this," he said, adding that no funding possibilities have yet been discussed.

Thompson said funding is the biggest problem because the state hasn't been funding bypasses and the county can't, due to lack of funding.

"If people are looking for county government to pay there won't be anyone to drive [the bypasses] because no one could afford to live here and pay the taxes for them," he said.

Lucas said he sees other problems with bypasses, such as drawing business out of the center of town and creating a traffic problem in another location if there are access points for commercial or residential development along the bypass.

Thompson said Westminster and Mount Airy are examples of towns with bypasses that have led to problems. Westminster has traffic problems and Mount Airy is currently seeking assistance to revitalize its downtown because commercial activity has moved out to the bypass, he said.

And one reason Middletown hasn't gotten a bypass it has been seeking for about 40 years is because the town couldn't agree on where to put it. That will be a key first step for any effort to obtain a bypass in Emmitsburg, Thompson said.

For now, the issue is simply in the discussion phase. But Lucas said the southern bypass option is being put on the comprehensive plan for upcoming workshops and public hearings. All special hearings to discuss the comprehensive plan will be announced in advance, he said.

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